Keeping PARCC in Mind for ELA… Without Teaching to the Test

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With the transition between the now-familiar NJ ASK test and the new PARCC assessment, teachers may be wondering how to adequately prepare their students. Teachers who struggle with the concept of getting their students ready without merely “teaching to the test” may be searching for ideas, especially in ELA and math classrooms. This week, let’s look at three practical ideas for English Language Arts teachers:

Know the core:

Because PARCC is completely aligned with the Common Core Content Standards, teaching a standards-aligned curriculum is the best way to put your students in the position to succeed. Get to know the standards well, and be sure you’re teaching them in a thoughtful way – especially when it comes to topics and content that you may not have formerly taught (such as pronouns, from the Language standards).

Moving away from personal connections and opinions to more evidence-based support from the text is another way you can tweak your instruction and simultaneously prepare your students for the test. Ask open-ended questions that require your students to revisit the text. Require them to cite passages, use quotations from their reading, and even document page numbers. Eventually, evidence-based writing will become second-nature to your students, and this skill alone will increase your students’ odds for success.

(For more information on the Common Core, check out the previous blog post, A Closer Look At the Common Core State Standards: A Middle School ELA Teacher’s Perspective.)

Familiarize students with the new format:

Sure, the PARCC test will maintain some similarities to the former New Jersey ASK test, but there are some key differences, and knowing (and subsequently teaching) those will help your students immensely. In sixth grade, for example, students will be asked to read a passage before writing a narrative response. This is a change from past assessments, and students who understand the importance of the text in helping them write an effective narrative story is imperative.

Another way to help with formatting differences is in the text passages themselves. Instead of reading one passage and answering questions, students will now be asked to read several texts and synthesize that information. Teachers can help their students by providing them with multiple texts in class and teaching them how to assimilate information from different texts, styles, and viewpoints in order to answer questions that draw from more than one source.

PARCC Test Practice: Online Resources for Educators

Learn the lingo.

Because the test will be computer-based, there will be new commands and directions that students may be unfamiliar with. In one sample ELA question, students may be required to “drag and drop” evidence from the text to demonstrate their understanding of the story and the ability to identify key supporting details. Students will need to be familiarized with terms like “drag and drop” so they are not confused (and possibly losing points on concepts they might actually understand – but get “wrong” because they don’t comprehend the directions).

As teachers, we tend to use different names and acronyms for the same concept, and while it’s great to help students understand that a concept can be described with many different names, it benefits you and your students to become intimately familiar with the terminology on the test. Using terms like “cite evidence” and “central idea” need to become part of your students’ vocabulary so that when it’s test-time, they understand exactly what the questions are asking them to do.

For more ideas, check out the new Lumos Learning app ( You can use this source as a ready reference to CCSS standards and even sample questions that you can use in your classroom.

For More PARCC resources

PARCC resources


Jenny Watson